By James Croggon, The Evening Star, May 3, 1913 [pt. 2 p. 10]
L’Enfant and Ellicott in planning the city marked the near twenty acres of the Ben Oden tract which fell in the bounds of 4th, 5th, D and G streets as a reservation; and Washington and Jefferson, in March, 1797, designated it as Judiciary Square. A jail is an important part of the judiciary system and it was rightly named, for from 1803 for nearly seventy years was the county jail there located; and since 1823 the city hall has there been the home of the local courts of the District. But not only has it been so used, but it was the seat of the municipality for fifty years, our principal hospital nearly twenty years and schoolhouse for fifteen years.
The first use made of the space was by squatters in the southeastern part, mostly laborers, who were there till about 1820, when the city hall or courthouse was projected, and then they moved elsewhere, mostly to the squares south and east. When the Circuit Court of the District by act of February 24, 1801, was established, with William Kilty, James Marshall and William Cranch as judges, the necessity of a permanent jail arose. D. Carroll Brent, the marshal, until its completion, had a temporary place of confinement in the alley north of C street between 4-1/2 and 6th streets, long known as McGurck jail, from the fact that a man of that name was led therefrom in 1802 and executed near Pennsylvania avenue and 2d street for the murder of his wife.
Courts Held in the Capitol
A daughter of one of the jailers and a tailor who had failed to pay his debts were mutually smitten. He was required to sleep at the jail, but was allowed to go anywhere within jail bounds, south of G street, west of 1st, east of 15th and north of the Tiber; and the girl was in the habit of attending to business outside, especially the marketing. One day the market basket was received, and after several hours she followed with the tailor and announced him as her husband. There was, of course, a scene, but the production of the minister’s certificate of the marriage induced the parents to make the best of it, and the warden not relishing a son-in-law being locked up, hastily arranged with his creditors for his release, and made him his deputy. Thus it came to his lot to turn the key on his former associates.
Descendants Still Live Here
In January, 1841, the Medical Society of the District petitioned Congress to establish a public hospital. Instead, by an act of Congress in 1842, an appropriation was made to cause such alterations to be made in the old structure as to renter it suitable for the care of the insane and other public charges, and also provided for the improvement of the northern half of the square. The building was accordingly altered, but the few insane prisoners and paupers here were sent to the insane hospital at Baltimore at government expense, Congress having decided that the building was unsuitable for the purposes. Then the faculty of the Columbia College petitioned for the use of the old jail building for medical instruction and scientific investigation, and an act was passed, therefore, June 15, 1844. They immediately took possession and fitted it up.
Only Hospital in This Section
In a little time it was an army hospital, additional wards to which were built adjoining. It was conducted as a hospital till the morning of November 3, 1861, when it was destroyed by fire. The destruction of this building led to the establishment of Providence Hospital on C between 2d and 3d streets southeast. The infirmary at the time of the fire was filled with patients and attendants. At first it was supposed that the blaze could be extinguished by the attendants, and there was some delay in giving the alarm and bringing out the volunteer fire companies. When they arrived the whole interior was doomed and several of the patients were seen at the windows. One fireman made his way to an upper window by climbing the spouting and getting in he found one of the patients suffocating in the smoke. He appeared with her at the window, from which he descended by ladder to the ground. There were several other narrow escapes, and most of the inmates and attendants lost their effects.
Dr. Hutchins Describes Fire.
The jail erected in the northeast part of the square about 1840 was in use more than thirty years – a three-storied brick structure known from its color as the “Blue Jug.” The jailers were, besides Mr. Ball above mentioned, James A. Williams, Lewis Wright, Robert Beall, Daniel Smith, Benedict Milburn, William H. Houstis and Gen. John S. Crocker. The latter was in charge when the transfer was made to the red stone edifice on 19th street southeast, which had been erected under the acts of 1872 and 1875 at a cost of about $600,000.